In the past few years, I've had a growing suspicion that a large group of fans, a bigger number that many would actually admit, actually enjoy the unpredictability of the offseason more than the inevitability of the regular season. The Yankees win the division again? The Pirates have another losing season? The Padres are stuck with a tiny payroll? Yawn.
Of course every baseball fan would prefer to see games played, but the intrigue of possible player transactions is just too tantalizing to turn away from. Who doesn't love the inevitable mystery team creeping up and acquiring a star player? Who won't sit in front of their computer sifting through trade rumors, the more ridiculous the better? Who doesn't suddenly turn into a math genius when analyzing a new multi-year contract?
So while many objective fans wanted to weep when Detroit's Miguel Cabrera stood at home plate on Sunday night and watched strike three of the final at-bat of the 2012 season without so much as attempting to swing -- meaning there would be no meaningful games for another five months -- there was also a sense of joy. A whole new season was beginning, and it could be just as fun as the one that ended.
What is it exactly that has made the offseason so attractive?
There is of course the belief of fans of those teams that sputtered out of contention this season that a couple moves during the next few months will improve next year's outlook (although really, how many Houston Astros fans really believe they will finish out of last place in 2013?). Irrational optimism is also part of the offseason fun.
But could it be that what we most enjoy about the offseason is the chance to mock some of the decision-making … allowing us to ignore some of our own questionable decision-making?
The same group of us who enjoy critiquing a seemingly silly free-agent signing (oh my goodness I can't believe the Red Sox gave Carl Crawford so much money!) won't think twice about some of the silly decisions we make in our own lives (Hurricane Sandy shopping trip purchase: Olives? Olives. Olives!).
In the offseason we can hold baseball executives to a higher standard of decision making than we hold ourselves. We gasp at what Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. spends on free agents, while not thinking twice about how much we spend on something like cable television ($150 a month for 1,000 channels even though we usually just watch 15-20 channels, many sports-related).
Which of us hasn't ordered one last unfortunate drink before last call, or bought electronics at the airport, or dated the completely wrong person, yet continued to laugh at the financials of the Alfonso Soriano contract?
This winter, when we're trying to forget how much we've spent on smartphone apps we never use, these are some of the stories that we'll be thinking about while we enjoy the start of baseball's second season:
Who will sign Josh Hamilton?
With any other player, the number of suitors for one of the best offensive outfielders in the game would reach double digits. Hamilton is quite the unusual case, though, a player whose value is tied closely to his personal issues of addiction, dependence and mental stability. How would Hamilton fare without the support system the Texas Rangers have set up for him? Any number of contenders looking for offense (Orioles? The defending champion Giants? Oakland?) could use Hamilton, but he may be so high maintenance that it just might not be worth the risk.
Will the Diamondbacks actually trade Justin Upton?
With Hamilton as the best available hitter on the free agent market, Upton's trade value would still be incredibly high despite his uneven season (.280/355/.430). His slugging percentage was the lowest of his career for a full season, but at just 25 years old, Upton still is capable of being one of the most potent hitters in the game. The Diamondbacks have been given several opportunities to say they will definitively not trade Upton, but they've declined to do so. Instead, general manager Kevin Towers will only say that Upton will stay with the Diamondbacks unless the team is blown away by an offer. Teams capable of blowing away the Diamondbacks include the prospect-rich Rangers, who might be trying to replace Hamilton, and the just simply rich Yankees, who will likely bid goodbye to right fielder Nick Swisher.
Is Mariano Rivera going to retire?
Rivera was defiant in the days shortly after his season ended suddenly because of a torn-up knee. There was no way he was going to go out this way, he said. Yet that stance has softened. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman admitted recently that Rivera has not made a final decision as to whether to return. Not only would Rivera's retirement signal the end of a remarkable Hall-of-Fame career, it would also force a reorganization of the Yankees' bullpen, which also could lose replacement closer Rafael Soriano after he exercises the opt-out in his contract.
Does anybody want Melky Cabrera?
Prior to his PED suspension, Cabrera was one of the best hitters in the National League, putting himself in position for a big contract. Now nobody quite knows what to make of him. Regardless of what you think of how PEDs physically affect a player, Cabrera's reputation has taken such a hit, in part because of his attempt to cover up his positive drug test with a bogus website, that no team is likely to want to offer any significant deal. Will Cabrera be willing to take a one-year deal to rebuild his value? Or will a team gamble on a multi-year deal to sign a now-affordable Cabrera?
Are the Mets going to sign David Wright to an extension or will they trade him?
The future of the Mets is largely tied to star third baseman David Wright. A willingness to trade Wright would signal that the Mets are in a long-term rebuilding effort. Signing Wright, who would be a free agent after the 2013 season, to a contract extension suggests the Mets might be mostly past their economic troubles and ready to become a viable franchise again. Surely Wright, who had the highest WAR (7.8) of any third baseman in the majors last year, would net several significant prospects, but the public relations hit the team would take might not make it worthwhile.
Which team had a season indicative of its immediate future: The Orioles or the Red Sox?
Are the Red Sox as terrible as they seemed last year? Are the Orioles as good as they finished last season? Executives from both teams will have to make those important determinations this offseason so that they can move forward into 2013. If Baltimore executives truly believe they are set to contend again, then do they take a risk and go after Hamilton? Would they consider making a bid for Zack Greinke, the best free agent pitcher on the market? If the Red Sox believe they needs to rebuild, then perhaps they would consider more cost-cutting trades.
Whatever happens this winter, rest assured there will be plenty of us ready to analyze each move. Because goodness knows there is no one better equipped to criticize offseason decisions than those of us who have spent an insane amount of money on DVDs we will never watch more than once.
Sports on Earth will bring you division-by-division Hot Stove previews over the next week.
Arangure has been a baseball writer since 2003. He has worked as a senior writer for ESPN and The Washington Post. He's still looking for a Mexican restaurant in New York City that's as good as something from his hometowns of Tijuana/San Diego. He doesn't think he'll find one.